Inmates for Rent, Sovereignty for Sale: The Global Prison Market
46 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2014 Last revised: 28 Jul 2014
Date Written: June 18, 2014
In 2009, Belgium and the Netherlands announced a deal to send approximately 500 Belgian inmates to Dutch prisons, in exchange for an annual payment of £26 million. The arrangement was unprecedented, but justified as beneficial to both nations: Belgium had too many prisoners and not enough prisons, whereas the Netherlands had too many prisons and not enough prisoners. The deal has yet to be replicated, nor has it triggered sustained criticism or received significant scholarly treatment. This Article aims to fill this void by examining the exchange and its possible implications for a global market in prisoners and prison space.
In the Article, I suggest three possible doctrinal and discursive frames through which we might view the Belgian-Dutch exchange: (1) prison labor in the context of globalized labor markets; (2) democracy, sovereignty, and the role of community in criminal punishment; and (3) international trade or the exchange and regulation of resources. Further, in focusing on U.S. analogs to this exchange, I emphasize that this ostensibly unique treaty bears much in common with contemporary carceral policy. I argue that this exchange is actually emblematic of a departure from traditional "theories of punishment" and represents a normalization of the prison as a staple of social and economic life.
Keywords: Belgium, Netherlands, prisons, criminal law, sentencing, theories of punishment, globalization, international trade, prison labor, convict leasing, mass incarceration, prison litigation, prison transfers, prison overcrowding, prison conditions
JEL Classification: F10, J45, J61, K10, K14, K31, K33, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation